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Rome – A Little Underwhelming

Posted By Jay On February 25, 2010 @ 10:00 am In Featured Articles,International Travel Reviews | No Comments

My overall impression of Rome is – underwhelmed. It’s like the movie everyone tells you was so great (like any Tarantino flick) and you watch it wondering what all of the fuss was about.

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Destination at a Glance

Date of Trip November 2008
Destination Good for Shopping, Culture/History
Best Time to Go
Spring & Fall
Currency/Conv. Rate Euro/ 1 USD equaled .56 Euros – Unfavorable
Good Way to Get Around Rent Car: Yes Public: Yes Taxi: Yes Walking: Yes
Appox. Trip Cost Moderately Expensive
Speaks English? Many – some signs in English
Entry Requirements Passport Only
Do it
  • Capuchini Bone Chapel
  • Ristorante del Pallaro
  • Imperial Forums
Skip it
  • Awful breakfast and most lunch cafes
  • The Vatican
Didn’t get to do Inside Sistine Chapel (no pictures allowed)
Would I Recommend Tour of Italy – not a Rome only trip
Overall Trip Rating Trip RatingTrip RatingTrip RatingTrip RatingTrip Rating

Trip Review (Click Thumbnails to see Full-Sized Images)

There’s probably no ancient culture talked about in our current environment more than ancient Rome – from books, television programs (Rome, Spartacus) or movies (Gladiator).  Luckily, many of the archeological locations referenced in these works are still standing; making a visit to Rome a good opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.  Rome has been on my Bucket List for as long as I’ve had one; unfortunately for me – it didn’t warrant its spot on the list.

Getting Around

One of the first things you notice as you drive into the city from the airport is how relatively small Rome is – at least the non-farm metropolitan area.  This is actually a good thing though, as it allows you to get to all of the interesting historic sites by a short taxi/bus ride – in many cases even walking.  In fact, if you do a little planning, you can visit all 14 of Rome’s frequently visited tourist attractions in a single day.

Oddly enough, Rome has a more “European” feel to it than an “Italian” feel.  If you closed your eyes for a minute and open them on any street without a tourist attraction – it would look no different than any other Western European city such as Paris, Brussels or Frankfurt.

There are hundreds of cabs in the city center – so getting from one site to the other is simple – if not expensive.   Due to the notoriously bad traffic, taking a cab isn’t necessarily a faster option than taking one of the many local tour buses.  These double-decker local tour buses essentially drive in a circle stopping at one of the 14 or so tourist attractions.  You purchase a 24hr pass which allows you to get on/off any stop in the route – with buses arriving every 20 minutes.  Most tour buses are equipped with multi-language commentary for each stop on the route and the headphones are usually included in the price of the 24hr ticket.

Finally, Rome has a simple train system that runs North/South and East/West – if you need anything in-between – you’re out of luck (sort of reminds me of Atlanta in that way).  My suggestion is to stay near the city center – any other area is a good ways away from most of the tourist attractions.

Historic Rome

While I did not visit all of the tourist attractions, here are a few of the attractions worth writing about.

  • ColosseumOne of the more recognizable sites in the world, the Colosseum is by far the most popular tourist attraction in Rome.  I made the mistake of not getting there early in the morning and was faced with at least a 2-hour wait in line.  There are two ways around this – pay extra to be part of a tour or hustle your way to the front of the line.  After hustling my way to the front of the line, I was struck by how much the place needed a bath!   Seriously, I know the place is thousands of years old – but dirt and moss growing on the pillars?  On top of that, visitors are not allowed on the Colosseum floor or in the underground passages.  You are essentially confined to the 2nd and 3rd levels where you can take downward facing shots – of moss covered stone.  WTF?   At least they have a small museum on the 3rd level – but if I’d waited two hours to see this crap I‘d been really mad.  One suggestion – the nighttime pictures of the Colosseum’s exterior are stunning – highly recommended.
  • Imperial Forums – Not far from the Colosseum are the Imperial Forums – a series of public squares, temples and buildings.  Even though they are not surrounded by walls like the Colosseum, as a whole they are much better maintained.  Again, I’d suggest visiting at night to take some excellent pictures.
  • Trevi FountainAnother popular tourist attraction, the fountain was initially built as the end point to the Roman irrigation/water system (aqueducts).  Several strong looking Romans adorn the top of the monument – many on Pegasus looking horses.  Other than taking excellent pictures (at night again) – the in thing to do at the Trevi Fountain is to make a wish.  According to legend – throwing 2 coins into the fountain will lead to a new romance – while throwing 3 coins will lead to marriage or divorce (huh???).
  • Pantheon – Built around 100 AD, the Pantheon was meant to be a temple to all of the gods.  It’s essentially a giant church – complete with Roman Catholic hems playing in the background.  I must say this place is grand; the pillars have to be at least 50ft high, the floors were very nice looking marble and the domed center is somewhat of an archeological masterpiece.  I’m not really a museum kinda dude – but pretty nice as these things go.
  • Spanish Steps – A rather steep incline of steps right off of the Piazza di Spagna (many shops/cafes).  Allegedly, these are the longest and widest staircases in Europe.  Nothing special here folks – keep it moving.

The thing that was really annoying to me was the number of beggars around these tourist traps.  While no one comes close to the beggars in Egypt – the Romans are making a strong push for 2nd place.  At least the Egyptians had enough sense not to touch you – these Son of a Guns obviously hadn’t heard of the “Ugly Americans”.  I happily provided a lesson.  Beggin Asses!!!

…Continued

The Vatican and Religion

  • The VaticanSimultaneously a sovereign country and complex within the city of Rome, this 110 acre patch of land claims less than 800 full-time residents.  Although it is called “Vatican City’ it is technically the smallest country in the world.  This walled off complex is where the Pope lives and can be seen for mass in the giant outdoor mass/prayer area.  The mass area – called St. Peter’s Square – contains two giant 50ft television screens for those not close enough to see the Pope, as well as advertising billboards on the sides of each.  Kinda nice when product marketing infringes on religion huh?  Anyway, I’m not that much of a museum dude so I can’t say I was awed by the Vatican; but I can still objectively point out the level of detail and craftsmanship on the inside of these buildings is nothing short of spectacular.  Be warned, many of the buildings do not allow photography.  Entry into St. Peters Square is free – the Vatican Tour is 15 Euros.
  • Sistine Chapel – One of the chapel buildings on the Vatican complex, it is a relatively non-descript building from the outside.  Inside is where you’ll find numerous works of art on the walls, on pedestals and most famously on the ceiling.  The problem I have with this is photography and videography is not allowed in most sections of the chapel.  Nowhere is this mentioned (like in the FAQs of their own site) until you get to the premises and are told of the ‘rule’.  They will tell you the flash causes deterioration of the fine art.  Okay – I‘ll buy that for the flash – but they claim non-flash cameras and videos are prohibited for copyright reasons.  Translation: if you share your pictures less people will pay the 15 Euros to get inside.  Short cited and not worthy of my time – so I skipped it.
  • Capuchini Bone ChapelThis has got to be the strangest museum I’ve ever seen in my life.  Thousands of museums display bones and skeletons; even more museums have collections of art.  Very very few museums combine the two using – Human Bones!!! That’s right – this ‘museum’ (crypt really) contains the remains of thousands of Friars form the 16th century.  Their bones are carefully positioned around the museum to produce ‘art’????  Frankly, there’s really no way I can describe this; it’s truly one of those things you just have to see for yourself.  How can one explain a chandelier made out of human bones and a fireplace out of skulls?  Simultaneously amazing and off-putting.  Admission is free, though donations are requested.  No camera/video allowed (I’m a bad boy)

Food

My lasting memory of Rome – more so than the sites, filth or beggars – was that I was starving the entire time I was there.  I was starving because I just couldn’t get anything decent to eat before dinner.  As I said earlier, Rome feels more European than Italian and this is no more evident than in the food.

Take breakfast, it seems the staple of European cooking is the art of not cooking their food.  I grant you, this is a matter of preference; what Americans called ‘cooked’ many Europeans call ‘burned’.  But this was extreme – the scrambled eggs were so runny it was like soup.  The bacon pork strips were so undone I could have sworn it yelled Oink.  On and on – no matter what the restaurant or hotel – this mess was inedible.  Lunch wasn’t much better – seriously – how the hell do you undercook a pizza???  You’d think there would be good Italian food in – you know Italy.

Anyway, I didn’t eat a decent meal until dinner the entire time I was in Rome.  Luckily for me – dinner was always a pleasant experience – as many restaurants only opened after 5pm.  It was as if all of the real effort was put into making dinner excellent – as they didn’t even try other times.  One place in particular, Ristorante del Pallaro provided me with one of the most wonderful culinary experiences in my life.  There is no menu at this establishment – it’s whatever the chef-owner Paola Fazi wants to make for that day.  But for 25 Euros, you get a 7 course home cooked meal (family owned and run restaurant) that includes a carafe of wine.  This is how Italian food should be!

In Closing

My overall impression of Rome is – underwhelmed.  It’s like the movie everyone tells you was so great (like any Tarentino flick) and you watch it wondering what all of the fuss was about.  That’s Rome.  Dinner was excellent and the Bone Chapel was a sight to behold – but the rest of this relatively small city just doesn’t warrant the fuss.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always value my experiences as each one provides something new; but if I had it to do over again, I’d take a Tour of Italy instead.  The country is small enough to drive to each of the major cities (Venice, Florence, Naples, Milan, Pompeii and Rome) in as little as 5 days.  This is good – because Rome by itself is pretty underwhelming – and dirty!

Happy Travels!!!

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